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Lower yields tempered by better prices in 2018, but more challenges to come



Winter wheat yields this year are down by 10%, but the upside is better commodity prices, says Agrovista MD Chris Clayton, noting that although prices have slid a little since their peak, they should remain good for the coming season.

"We all gave a sigh of relief

at the end of August when

the cereals harvest was completed as it was an

early, easy harvest"




Chris Clayton

Managing Director


The 2018 growing year had not been easy; a wet winter spilled over into a late spring, in which the soils quickly went from too wet to hard and dry, leading to stressed crops.

While many winter crops caught up despite looking backward in March, spring-drilled crops did not have time to develop their root systems to scavenge for water and nutrients before soils dried, resulting in a lower commercial yields for many growers.

Nevertheless, combinable crops matured a little earlier than usual during the long, warm summer, and the weather remained fair over harvest.

Mr Clayton says: “We all gave a sigh of relief at the end of August when the cereals harvest was completed as it was an early, easy harvest, and there were low drying costs.”

As the dry and warm weather continued, many growers hoping to improve establishment and yield potential brought their wheat drilling forward to the last week in August or very early September to take advantage of warmer soils and higher temperatures.

Most of these autumn sown crops have been able to establish well as the weather so far has been kind.

But, he points out, risks from early drilling include the threat of lodging (because the crops will be taller) and reduce blackgrass control.

“Not waiting for flushes of blackgrass and then treating them could prove to be an expensive strategy if the newly drilled crops fail to be competitive with the pernicious weed. Growers may find they have to invest in more chemical controls and they may struggle to keep control,” he warns. 

There has also been a move away from spring cropping, indicated by an increase in sales of autumn residual herbicides, says Mr Clayton.

This could be partly driven by the results of the poorer spring crop yields and the good autumn sowing conditions, but may not help blackgrass control strategies.

Mr Clayton has observed some changes in some of the winter crop trends too, for example, OSR growers have been going through a difficult time.

“Up to 60,000ha of OSR has been lost – partly because of the dry seed beds which made germination difficult but also because of flea-beetle activity,” he says.

Some of the growers who have had to rip the crop out have opted to grow a second wheat or winter barley.

“2018 was clearly an exceptional year, weather-wise, which is not really reflected by averages; the total rainfall was still average, but the rain fell in the first three months.

“We are seeing more of these ‘exceptional’ weather extremes and this leads us to ask what a ‘normal’ season really looks like.”

Nevertheless, the real cloud on the horizon is Brexit; and at Agrovista Mr Clayton believes it is vital to prepare for a worst-case scenario so growers can be sure of a timely, secure supply of fertilisers and plant protection products.

“If we have a hard Brexit, on March 30 the ports could be blocked,” he warns.

“This could have serious implications if we are not able to mitigate the situation of import/export of pesticides.”

Almost all pesticides are formulated outside the UK, so manufacturers are bringing forward production in preparation.


The catch is the lack of compliant warehousing, he pointed out: “We may need growers with storage space to help out by taking the plant protection products in early.”

After Britian’s departure from the EU, prices may escalate because of a potential 6.5% import tariff, he adds.

“We are working to evaluate and mitigate any problems before they occur,” Mr Clayton adds.

“If he UK negotiates a transition period, supplies are unlikely to be interrupted.”


Article appears in Agronomist & Arable Farmer - November/December 2018


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